Sunday arrived and, quite fittingly, the Half-Marathon that came with it marked the half-way point in my training schedule. Sunday was also the first opportunity to test out my new compression sleeves (yes, my £30 socks had arrived!!) and I donned them with both optimism and apprehension for the day ahead…
Sleaford is about 1.5hrs from home, so waking from the 6:30am alarm gave me enough time to get ready and prepare my usual pre-race repast of porridge and carbohydrate drink. With the race starting at 10:30 at the training college at RAF Cranwell, leaving home at 08:00 meant arriving with an hour or so spare and the chance to mentally prepare for what was ahead. I was not the only Cleethorpes AC member running the race that day. Flying the club flag with me were Phil, Pirjo, Sharon, Jayne, Sam, Tony, Jason, Leona, Keith and Linda and one of the great benefits of being part of a group is the chance to get together before assembling at the start line for a bit of group support and motivation. Several of us are in the midst of marathon training and are experiencing remarkably similar effects, from aches and pains to motivational and performance anxieties. Sharing and discussing these definitely helps in my opinion, and serves to reassure that you’re not alone.
Upon arriving and getting out of the car, the first thing of note was how breezy it was. I’m not talking about gale-force conditions but certainly enough to notice and wonder what its effects would be when we inevitably came to confront it head-on. Secondly, the relatively mild week beforehand had given way to a cooler weekend and an ambient temperature of 5degC; a good climate for running and certainly much more conducive than the last half-marathon I ran (29degC Mablethorpe in October 2011 – remember it well!). Thankfully, the sky was clear and the sun shining, which brought brief but welcome spells of warmth when sheltered from the wind and ensured we’d at least stay dry.
As I previously eluded, my aspirational target was 1hr45m on the basis that this would be a good indication of being on track for my target marathon time of 3hr45m. To say I had put myself under some pressure to achieve this is an understatement. What would it mean to not achieve this time? Am I aiming too high? I ran the same race exactly a year before and my time was 1hr49m25s – just under the psychologically significant 1h50m mark – but in much calmer conditions. This time, with a year’s worth of training behind me, surely I could do better, but did I have it in me to average 08:00/mile for 13.1 miles..?
Although I had my Garmin watch on and active, I refrained from looking at it (following good advice) for the whole race because I knew that being aware of pace or time would mean added pressure and the potential for speeding up too soon and blowing up. The plan was to run at a pace which was applying pressure but one which was sustainable. Upon getting home I was able to see my run for the first time and analyse my performance:
From the start I could feel the training in my legs but the recent massage and rest had done the trick and I was a lot looser than I have been in recent weeks. The start was strong and we turned to hit the off-road section after 2 miles slipping and sliding our way through the mud and into the gusty head-wind. Back on tarmac a mile later and a chance to settle into the race as the elevation started to rise. 7 miles of undulating incline followed, but I felt strong and was able to deliver a consistent effort regardless of the changes in gradient. It was a pleasant feeling to pass runners going uphill – those off-road and hill training sessions clearly paying dividends. The mile markers came and passed without too much of an issue (which was great as I remember certain bits of the route from last year and they seemed far less scary this time round) and before I knew it the 9 mile mark had arrived, and with it a left turn and onto the downhill section with the wind at our backs for the first time. Time to open up the taps a bit. Still, my legs felt good and I was able to maintain a sub-08:00/mile pace for the next 3 miles, slowing only to take on water at the last drinks station around mile 11. By this point in a run, even a slower training run, my calves normally would have been screaming out demanding a respite but, thanks to my new attire, I was really pleased to not be able to feel any ache at all! What a result! Back into the civilisation of the RAF grounds and the end was in sight…
And the final result..?
Turning the corner for the finishing straight was one of those bitter/sweet moments. I had felt good all the way round, my legs felt strong and my calves were good (thanks in part to my £30 socks!) but seeing the clock at the finish line ahead was disappointing. Very disappointing. Having had what had felt like such a good run I was sure I’d break the 1:45 mark and upon seeing xx:46:xx on the time ahead my usual burst for the final straight was nowhere to be found. I was instantly flat. I used to look forward to the end of a race – the moment on seeing the finish line…the feeling of the hairs standing up on the back of my neck…the rush of adrenaline surging me on to a sprint finish – but I’ve not had that for quite a few races now and I miss it. I have to say I crossed the line at Sleaford feeling a bit down and even so far as I’d under-achieved somehow, despite having taken a whole 3 minutes off my previous Half-Marathon PB. Like I said, bitter/sweet. Later the same day, after ruminating over events somewhat, I came to the conclusion that were it not for the fact that the course was a) hilly, b) windy and c) had a 1-mile off-road section during which I dropped at least 30 seconds, I reckon I could’ve made up the 1min25secs to hit the 1h45m mark. Then again, “If my auntie had…”…I know! The organisers of the race, Sleaford Striders, describe the course as “a challenging rural course” after all, so probably not one to expect a fast performance and certainly not one to expect a PB on.
I want to try it again.
So what does this mean? Well, looking at the positives, it means I’ve taken 3mins off my 13.1mile PB on a challenging course, I felt good throughout and I averaged 08:07/mile in the process coming in 3rd position for the club. Although I didn’t hit my target I wasn’t far off and I am somewhat content that I’m there or there abouts at this halfway stage.
My thoughts now need to return to my schedule and to my long run mileage working up to 20 miles over the next couple of weeks.
50% done…50% to go (and that’s just to get me to the start line)
52 days 9 hours and 20 minutes to go…